Like any zombie game worth its weight in rotting flesh, Days Gone arms players with a varied arsenal of ranged and melee weapons. As outlaw biker Deacon St. John, however, you spend as much time behind the handlebars as you do looking down the barrel.

Thankfully, St. John’s signature ride is more than a means of transportation. Sure, it handles like a dream – whether you’re tearing up the black top at full speed or carefully navigating a snaking wilderness path – but it also serves as a survival tool. The game’s sprawling Pacific Northwest open-world is brimming with threats of both the human and brain-craving variety, but its coveted resources are less plentiful. You needn’t waste your last bullets on baddies though, as many of the game’s enemies can be flattened with your motorcycle.

As fun as it is making a shambling foe one with the pavement, a quick escape is often recommended over playing chicken with the undead. Hitting the gas when unexpectedly encountering a swarm of rampaging freaks can be as satisfying as turning one into a pulpy smear. Hightailing it from one of the game’s 100-strong Freaker hordes is especially rewarding, more so when you consider the ammo and health packs you’re conserving in the process.

Of course, like any man – or machine – living through the post-apocalypse, the bike has its limits. It can break down if not maintained, and even run out of gas. In fact, while the world’s heavily populated by bad men and badder monsters, the most frightening thing you can face is a low fuel gauge. Stalling on a wilderness path, as the sun goes down and a rainstorm rolls in, is the thing of nightmares. And that’s before you begin desperately scavenging for fuel, while the shrieks of the infected close in on your location.

Whether you’re running on empty or spying that first wisp of smoke rising from an engine needing repair, monitoring and maintaining your bike adds an absorbing strategic element to Days Gone‘s survival side. That’s just the beginning, however, as refueling and repairing your bike – with found gas tanks and scavenged scrap – are just temporary fixes. Much like the protagonist, the motorcycle has a layered progression path, complete with plenty of customization options and permanent upgrades.

Get in good with a camp’s mechanic, and you’ll soon have access to a variety of decals and paint jobs. Beyond personalizing your two-wheeled companion with cosmetic touches, you can invest in upgrades, like a larger fuel tank and peppier engine. If you really crave that need for speed, you can also buy nitrous tanks, as well as better tires for improved traction. Favor cautious survival over pure adrenaline? Maybe opt for a quieter exhaust – as not to attract unwanted attention – and a sturdier frame that’ll absorb more damage. You can even turn Deacon’s bike into a mobile ammo locker with some new saddlebags.

Regardless of which upgrades you focus on, tweaking your bike is as engaging as shaping Deacon’s progression path. While transportation is nothing new for an open-world game, most treat vehicles as a disposable means of getting from point A to point B. Days Gone refreshingly evolves the concept, organically weaving it into the story and gameplay. The bike becomes a character in itself, a best friend that’s got your back. Unless, of course you neglect it, and it leaves you stranded on a stretch of zombie-infested highway.

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